By Liz Carolan (@LizCarolan)
There is an episode in the Danish political drama Borgen where our heroine, Birgitte Nyborg, stands up in the middle of a chaotic room of volunteers helping her build a new political party, thanks them for their contributions, and then sends them away.
There is something energising about a new space opening up, and it can bring out the best in people. When the Open Data Charter started a few years ago, our six Principles were created, and a network built, through the energy of people who already had enough things on their plate. But they took the Charter on. They came with insights based on years of experience, all brought together in the wonderful chaos that is online and in person conversations.
Yet part of the attraction of a new space is the ability to project onto it your vision, the possibility of a new thing that can address the challenges you see in the way you think will work best.
In those early days a secretariat was put in place, but it was not until this year that a permanent staff of three employees was brought on board. The first few months of taking on these roles, it became apparent to us that there were different, and at times contradictory, visions about what the Charter should do.
Some thought the Charter was well placed to be supporting government implementing open data policies. Others believed that the Charter should advocate for open data at the highest levels, or that it should coordinate actors in the sector, or act as a learning hub…
When faced with a similar scenario, with fierce arguments about party policy positions, Birgitte decided the best route for her was to slow everything down, clear the room, take it all away and work out what was best, then invite those volunteers back in. If they didn’t agree, maybe the party wasn’t for them.
The three of us, having worked in this sector in various ways for the last few years, take the responsibility of inheriting stewardship of the Charter seriously. And we recognise that the Charter only exists and has legitimacy through the network that built it.
We also like to do things in a way that reflect our values. Two important ones are that things are generally done better in the open, and that decisions should be based on evidence and analysis as much as possible.
So like Birgitte we slowed everything down, we listened to the advice we were hearing, but instead of making an immediate decision on where to focus, we decided to try out some of the ideas and see if we could end up with a shared understanding of what to do, underpinned by evidence. We came up with four projects we will deliver with partners to test the different visions of how the Charter can add value. If successful, each of these projects could evolve into a longer-term programme.
You can read about our approach, and learn more about the four projects, in our full strategy document. At the end of the process we will work out which approach works best for our network, the resources we have available and which we are uniquely placed to do vs those a partner can take on.
Not everyone will agree with the decisions that we take but we believe that by doing things in the open, and testing what actually works, we will end up with a stronger, widely shared vision for the Charter. And this will hopefully lead to more impact and get us closer to a world where government information is used to empower people in order to build more prosperous, equitable and just societies.